Machu Picchu is one of those places that has been high up on our list for years. So, when we were in Bolivia and heard that it had opened up again after the political unrest of December ’22, you can imagine we were STOKED. Peru was next on our itinerary, with Cusco being one of the first stops, so the planning for our visit to Machu Picchu could begin!
From buying your ticket, the different ways of getting to Aguas Calientes, and other information, I’ll go through our whole experience.
Trigger warning for budget travellers: it ain’t cheap!
- Machu Picchu tickets
- How to book
- How to get to Machu Picchu
- Can you visit Machu Picchu in 1 day
- Cost overview
Machu Picchu tickets
Let’s start with the basics. To visit Machu Picchu, like many other museums and inca ruins, you need a ticket. At the time of writing these tickets are available for 152 soles (≈ €38) and 200 soles (≈ €54). A payment fee (for us this was 12 soles ≈ €3) will be added on to your total at checkout.
When to book your ticket might vary on when you’ll be visiting. We were in Peru in April, which is low season. But, we were going to be in Cusco the week before Easter, which is Semana Santa, and many Peruvians were travelling! Because of this we had to push our visit a couple of days, as we couldn’t get tickets for the day we wanted. Not a big deal for us as we’re flexible and didn’t have any time constraints, but still a bit of a bummer, haha. If you’re travelling in high season (July and August, perhaps also June and September) you’re wise to book your tickets a bit more in advance.
Types of tickets
After COVID the way you visit Machu Picchu was changed, and ever since you have to choose a type of ticket before you purchase them. To be a bit more specific, you purchase a ticket that allows you to walk a specific route through the complex, and climb one of the 3 mountains if you’d like. There are 5 options:
- Llaqta de Machu Picchu (circuito 1, 2, 3, ó 4): this option only includes the ruins, you can choose which circuit you want to walk.
- Circuito 4 + Montaña Waynapicchu: with this option you can only walk circuit 4 and climb Wayna Picchu.
- Circuito 3 + Montaña Machupicchu: with this option you can only walk circuit 3 and climb Machu Picchu.
- Circuito 4 + Montaña Huchuypicchu: with this option you can only walk circuit 4 and climb Huchuy Picchu.
- Circuito 1 o 2 + Puente Inka: with this option you can choose between circuit 1 or 2, and visit the Puente Inka (the inka bridge).
You can learn more about the circuits and the mountains on the Machu Picchu website. Make sure you select the correct circuit, as you cannot change your ticket to a different route after your purchase.
How to book your ticket online
If you are going to Machu Picchu by yourself (meaning, self organised, so without a tour), you can buy your ticket online or in Cusco at one of the offices. We booked our tickets online so we’re not familiar with purchasing them at the office in Cusco, but assuming that should be relatively straight forward. However, there are some things to take into account when purchasing online.
How to book, step-by-step
- Go to the Machu Picchu website.
- Select the type of ticket(s) you want under ‘Ruta’, your date of visit under ‘Fecha de visita’, and fill in the number of adult, student and minor visitors.
- Hit the ‘Disponilidad’ button.
- The time slots will appear below, showing how many available tickets are still available per time slot in blue. If a time slot has the word ‘Agotado’ in red, it means that time slot is fully booked.
- Select a time slot and click the ‘Continuar con la reserva’ button to go to the next page.
- On the next page you need to fill in the personal information for everyone in your booking. Make sure everything is correct before clicking ‘Siguiente’.
- On the next page you’ll be shown an overview of the information you filled in on the previous page. Directly below that, there’s a box that you need to tick, stating that all the information you provided is correct. You need to tick this box, otherwise you can’t continue with your reservation.
- Under ‘Información de contacto y facturación’, fill in your e-mail address and a physical address (we just filled in our home address, as far as we know they don’t use this for anything). Your tickets will be sent to your e-mail, so make sure there are no typos.
- Accept all 3 terms and conditions at the bottom of the page by clicking the dark grey buttons, and selecting ‘Acceptar’ in the pop up that appears (repeat for the other 2).
- Click ‘Generar reserva’.
But… you didn’t pay yet!
- Go to your e-mail inbox and open the e-mail that has your reservation in it. Scroll down until you see ‘Formas de pago’. Click the ‘Pago directo’ link.
- A new tab will open with your reservation overview, and payment options at the bottom. Select your preferred option, we paid with a Visa creditcard which went smoothly.
- When your payment has gone through, you will receive another e-mail, this time with your actual tickets.
And that’s it! Make sure to download your tickets to your phone storage (in case you don’t have signal in Machu Picchu). There’s no need to print the tickets.
How to get to Machu Picchu
To get to Machu Picchu, first you need to get to Cusco, which is possible from basically every city in Peru. Take a (night)bus or a plane, getting to Cusco is the easy part.
Once in Cusco, the next step will be to get to Aguas Calientes. This is a small town in the mountains from where you go directly to Machu Picchu (either by bus or walking, but you can read more about this below).
Officially, there is only one way to do this: by train.
The train is VERY expensive. A one way ticket from Cusco to Aguas Calientes starts at 60 USD. For a round trip ticket you’re looking at a minimum of 120 USD. Our backpacker budget of maximum €50 per person per day didn’t really allow for a (massive!) splurge like this. Find out more about the train tickets on the PeruRail website.
Lucky for us… there’s another way.
Unofficially, you can get to Hydroelectrica (the closest place to Machu Picchu you can get to by car) with a 5/6 hour ride, and from there 10 kilometers of walking to Aguas Calientes.
Getting to Hydroelectrica
The cheapest way to get to Hydroelectrica would be to take several collectivos (minivans) via Santa Maria and Santa Teresa. All these collectivos together will be a fraction of the cost of the train, and also quite a bit less than the direct transfer, but will take you upwards of 6 hours and requires switching vans a few times.
We chose the direct transfer to Hydroelectrica, which a bit more expensive than doing it yourself of course, but still a whole lot better than a €100+ for the train. For 80 soles (≈ €20) per person you can book a transfer (from basically every tour agency) from the center of Cusco to Hydroelectrica. This will also take around 6 hours, with a few rest stops on the way for food and baños. We left Cusco around 6:30 and arrived at Hydroelectrica around 13:00.
You’ll be dropped off at a restaurant, which is also the place you’ll head back to Cusco from. As it’s lunch time, have a bite to eat, before starting your walk to Aguas Calientes.
Walking to Aguas Calientes
From Hydroelectrica it’s about a 2/2,5 hour walk along the train tracks.
Now, officially it’s not allowed to walk alongside the train tracks, you’ll see signs for this as soon as you start walking. However, because so many people have started taking this route to Machu Picchu, the authorities have kind of accepted it and have even placed some signs pointing the way to the start of the trail. The only thing you need to do before hitting the tracks, is register yourself with the official before you hit the tracks. You’ll pass a little house on the way there, it’s impossible to miss.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be walking alone, as many budget travellers choose this route to get to Aguas Calientes. However, even if you were to be walking this alone, you simply keep following the signs and the tracks until you get to town, it’s basically impossible to get lost. The walk itself is also very easy as it’s completely flat. It shouldn’t take you much more than 2,5 hours to get to Aguas Calientes, if you take a few stops along the way.
When you arrive in Aguas Calientes this way, it will be late-ish afternoon already, so that doesn’t leave any time to still visit Machu Picchu that same day. Book a night in a ho(s)tel, walk around the town for a bit, have a bite to eat and (if you have an early morning ticket) head to bed early.
How to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes
Again, there is a budget way, and a slightly expensive way. The cheap option is to walk all the way up. This will take you around 1.5 hours, and it’s uphill all the way. Downhill should be a bit faster of course.
The expensive way, is taking a bus that will take around 20 minutes and leaves every 10 minutes from 5:30 in the morning, and costs USD 12 per person, one way. Yes, dollars, so around 45 soles. For a 20 minute ride. It’s insane.
A compromise here could be taking the bus up, and then walking down, but this is of course totally up to you, your budget, and your planning.
Can you visit Machu Picchu in one day
The short answer here is, yes. Yes, you can. But. And it’s a big but. Be prepared to spend some money. Visiting Machu Picchu in a day requires you to take the train, take the bus both ways, and above all, that you plan it extremely well. Your ticket has a time slot in which you need to enter the site. There’s probably a little bit of wiggle room here, but if you’re late, you might not be allowed to enter. So, there’s not a lot of room for error.
If you have the time to do it over 2 (or more) days, saving you money and your sanity, that would be my suggestion.
As you know by know, visiting Machu Picchu can be quite expensive. It was definitely more than we expected it would be, but we weren’t going to miss out on this one! This is what we spent, for 2 people, to travel to and see Machu Picchu:
- Transport to and from Hydroelectrica = 160 soles (≈ €40)
- Hostel Aguas Calientes, 1 night = 45 soles (≈ €11)
- Machu Picchu tickets for llaqta Machu Picchu (inlc. fees) = 316,26 soles (≈ €79)
- Return ticket for the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu = 48 USD (≈ €45)
- Guide = 80 soles (≈ €20)
Total: €195 for 2 people, €97,50 per person.
As our visit to Machu Picchu, including all the travelling, was technically spread out over 2 days, we were just within our €50/day budget. However, this overview doesn’t show the costs for food and drinks, which put us over budget. Of course this balances out with days where you stay well under budget, so going over a bit wasn’t a reason for us not to visit this world wonder!
Are you ready to visit Machu Picchu?